Authors: Donna Hill
This book is dedicated to all my loyal fans.
Thanks for your support.
oe struggled to concentrate. But the harder she tried the more difficult it was to focus. She could almost feel his strong hands exploring her body. Her eyelids fluttered open as a soft, longing moan escaped her lips, reluctantly pulling her back to reality. She blinked rapidly and inhaled a shuddering breath, as she took in her surroundings amidst the storage room.
Back to work. Focus,
she thought. Yet every day it was becoming more and more tiring. The fantasies were becoming almost lifelike, and the episodes of arousal were no longer confined to her dreams. The images appeared unexpectedlyâbehind her eyelids, stirring a tingling sensation as the fabric
of her clothing brushed against her skinâany time of day or night. She breathed in slowly and deeply.
Zoe knotted her shoulder-length hair atop her head and continued to carefully unwrap the thick packaging that surrounded the five-foot tall wooden fertility statues. She'd been waiting weeks for them to be delivered, by the time they arrived from South Carolina earlier that morning. She peeled away the last layer of wrapping as the air momentarily caught in her throat. Her pulse was racing so fast, it was as if she was meeting a blind date for the first time.
Awestruck, she stepped back to get a better look. The rich ebony wood was polished to a smooth, shiny finish. The intricate hand-carved details captured every feature of the figures of the man and woman, from the sword and mango that he carried in his hands to the infant that she carried in hers. There seemed to be a warm glow radiating around them. But Zoe chalked it up to her overactive imagination or more likely the sun beaming down from the skylight overhead. The pair of sculptures was on loan from the Ripley Museum in South Carolina. And as head curator at the High Museum in Atlanta, it was her responsibility to search the globe for the best works of art for the museum's exhibits and collections. She was also responsible for ensuring their safe-keeping once the items were on display.
There were so many myths surrounding the beautifully carved totemsâthe most prominent
being that touching the figures was an antidote to infertility. According to some of the stories, when the fertility sculptures were first put on display after having been purchased and brought to America from the Ivory Coast, within months, more than a dozen women who worked at the Ripley Museum became pregnant after touching the statues.
As with all urban legends, the story spread like wildfire and the fertility figures became the art world's equivalent of the miracle at Lourdes.
Zoe smiled. Although she came from a long line of conjure women and a family history filled with prophecies and curses, if she didn't believe the stories told by her Nana, her mother and her aunties, she certainly wasn't buying into the myth of the fertility totems. She didn't believe in all that mumbo jumbo, even if the dreams she'd been having were becoming more frequent and the hazy vision of a man was getting closer and his voice clearer, night after night.
Some mornings she'd awaken shaken and confused. She had an overwhelming feeling that if she had been able to hold on to sleep for a bit longer, the face that appeared in her dreams would materialize. It was ridiculous, of course. Yet, it was on days like today when she'd find herself scrutinizing everyone she passed on the street, secretly hoping to recognize him. She shook her head, dispelling the idea as mere silliness.
By nature she was a realist and her profession
demanded that she deal in facts and what was tangible. Sure, she was going to be thirty years old in three months, and she knew that upon her thirtieth birthday the legacy of women of the Beaumont clan would be upon her. But that didn't mean that she believed that she was the one who would break the curse that had plagued the Beaumont women for generations. Besides, if any part of the curse were true, she needed a man. And
she didn't have. She stared at the fertility couple.
A feeling of warmth began to build inside her, starting at her feet and slowly inching its way upward through her body. A thin line of perspiration formed at her hairline and her eyesight began to get cloudy. All of a sudden, the statues seemed to vibrate.
“Zoe, there you are.”
Zoe jumped as if she'd been startled by an intruder. Her fingertips tingled and her heart raced as if she'd run a half marathon. She blinked several times to clear her vision, turned and forced herself to smile.
Mike Williams was one of the assistant curators. She'd brought him on once she'd settled into her position, and there wasn't a moment that she'd regretted her decision.
Mike was an expert in African art and antiquities dating back to the early 1800s. It was Mike who'd helped her negotiate the deal to get the fertility
statues to the High Museum. And he wasn't bad to look at, either. The girls didn't call him “Big Mike” for no reason. With his smooth, Hershey chocolate-coated skin dripping over six-plus feet of sculpted muscle, Mike could have easily been bronzed and put on display.
“They're real beauties,” he said, stepping up beside her.
“Hmm, yes, they are,” she murmured gradually coming back down to earth. For an instant, she wondered if it was the image of Mike that haunted her dreams.
“Do you buy into the whole fertility thing?” he asked, slowly walking around the statues, admiring the finely sculpted details.
Zoe sputtered a laugh. “You're kidding, right? You know me better than that. I believe in science and things that I can prove, not myths.” No matter that her family believed otherwise.
“Just checking,” he teased, rubbing the statue. “Why don't you give it a rub?”
She puckered her lips. “I will, just to prove you wrong.” She ran her hand along the smooth ebony surface and a mild charge of electricity shot up her arm. She pulled her hand back. “Satisfied?” she said, a bit shaken as she spun away.
Mike's deep laughter followed her out of the storage room. Zoe got on the freight elevator, thankful to be alone. She got off the elevator on the second floor and walked along the corridorâflanked by
cool, dove gray-colored wallsâto her small office, and shut the door behind her.
What was going on? She did not feel like herself today, she thought, taking a seat behind her cluttered desk piled high with exhibit catalogues and research notes. She was sure it had something to do with the dreams she'd been having, which had become more vivid in the past few weeksâso much so that they were affecting her during her waking hours. Like today. What other explanation could there be for her reaction to the statues other than the lack of a good night's sleep?
She drew in a long calming breath. The opening of the exhibit unveiling the statues was in two weeks. She had plenty to do and no time to dwell onâwell, whatever it was that was happening to her. Tonight she was determined to get some well-deserved rest and be prepared and clear-headed for the big event.
Zoe scoured through piles of research materials making notes on new finds and reading the latest news on African American museum collections across the country. She made some phone calls, and sent off a few emails. When she looked up at the clock above her door, she was stunned to see that it was past noontime. She pushed away from her desk, closed her eyes and stretched her arms high above her head. A whiff of a strongly male scent wafted toward her nose. Her eyes flew open,
so sure she would find a man standing in her office. But she was completely alone.
Her gaze darted around the room, stopping in every corner. She gave a short shake of her head. Food, she needed food. She was operating on very little sleep and an empty stomach. She pulled open her bottom desk drawer and took out her purse.
Taking her suit jacket from the back of her chair she walked out of her office in search of food. Maybe she'd take a stroll over to her friend Sharlene's office and see if she was free for lunch.
“I'm going out for a while,” she said to Mike, who was putting brochures out at the information desk. “I'll be back in about an hour.”
Zoe stepped out into the balmy spring afternoon. The sky was clear, and there was a crispness in the air. As usual, the streets of Atlanta were dotted with tourists and lunch-goers. She loved the city even as she missed her home and family in Louisiana.
Her mother, Mariya, had begged her to come home for a visit and she'd been putting it off with all that she had to do at work. But the urge to see her family was growing stronger every day. Maybe she could take a quick trip home for a weekend as soon as the exhibit opened, she thought as she turned down Peachtree Street in the direction of Sharlene's office. Mike could handle things in her absence.
She stopped in front of Moore Designs and opened the glass front door. The reception area of Moore Designs looked like a page from an interior design magazine. The walls were painted in bold colors, which complemented the sleek modern furnishings. Low couches and chairs provided a comfortable seating arrangement, set off by rugs that covered the hardwood floors. Eclectic wall art covered every inch of the space behind the reception desk.
For two years Sharlene had been the host of
on HGTV. Although it gave her a high profile and droves of clients, the time she spent away from her design studio and from friends and family was more than she'd wanted to.
“Hi, Cynthia,” Zoe said, greeting the front desk receptionist.
“Hi, how are you?”
“How's everything coming with the opening?”
“Right on schedule. The statues arrived this morning, actually.”
“They're getting a lot of buzz in the art world. Congrats on acquiring them.”
“Thanks. It was definitely a team effort. Is Sharlene around?”
“Sharl is in her office. Go on back.”
Zoe walked down the hallway with its cool white
walls, and turned a corner to Sharlene's office. Her door was open.
“Hey, girl,” she said, poking her head in.
Sharlene looked up from examining a batch of fabrics. Her sandy brown eyes lit up in her golden butter-tone face. She took off her glasses and set them on the desktop. “Hey. This is a surprise. I thought you'd have your hands full with the shipment today.”
Zoe walked inside the office, which was definitely a reflection of Sharlene's personality and taste. The office was filled with design ideas that included vibrant fabric swatches, see-through drawers filled with marble, granite and wood samples, easels for her drawings, a drafting table, decorating accessories, colored pencils and paints. Zoe lifted a stack of magazines from a club chair and plopped down, suddenly feeling exhausted.
“You look like you could use a vacation,” Sharlene said, noticing the sluggishness reflected in Zoe's tired-looking eyes. “Still not sleeping?”
Zoe shook her head and covered her mouth as she yawned. “I wish what I was doing was sleeping, but the dreamsâ¦”
Sharlene leaned back in her Herman Miller chair. “Still the same?”
“Yes, only more intense.” Without warning her nipples hardened and the tiny bud between her thighs began to throb as images of the man who came to her in her dreams, the faceless man
who made passionate love to her emerged in her mind. Her nostrils flared as her pulse quickened. She hadn't told Sharlene everything, not the parts about the faceless seducer who left her trembling with longing.
“Are you all right? You look flushed.”
Zoe quickly shook her head. “Fine. Just tired.”
Even Sharlene, who was as open-minded as they came, would think she was losing it if Zoe told her what had been going on at night. “And hungry.” She forced a grin. “Can you get away for a bit?”
“Sure. My eyes were starting to cross looking at all these fabrics.” She stood and took her purse from the shelf behind her desk. “Want to head over to Gladys Knight's place?”
“I was thinking the same thing. We should be able to get a table. It's still early.”
The two friends walked out together staying on Peachtree Street to the restaurant three blocks away. The locale was famous not only because of its owner but for its mouth-watering menu, specifically the chicken and waffles, the house specialty. After a short wait, they were seated in a booth by the window and their orders were taken.
“You look like you could use a drink to go with that vacation,” Sharlene commented, once the waitress was gone. “Is something else bothering you?” She gazed steadily at Zoe.
Zoe lowered her eyes then finally focused on Sharlene. “This is going to sound totally crazy.”
“Maybe, but tell me anyway.”
Zoe leaned back, stretched her arms out in front of her and cupped her water glass. “The dreams are more thanâ¦just dreams.”
Sharlene's perfectly arched brows rose. “Okay, so what are they?”
“Yeah.” She leaned closer. “He comes to me in my sleep,” she said under her breath.
“What?” Sharlene said in confusion.
“The image of a manâ¦ He comes to me in my sleep, andâ¦he makes love to me.” She swallowed and realized how ridiculous it sounded.
Sharlene was quiet for a moment. “You dream about being made love to?”
“By a stranger?”
“Yes, but it's as if I know him.” Her voice was beginning to take on a desperate edge. “But I can't see him. Not really.” She shook her head. “Forget it. It doesn't make sense.” She took a sip of her water.
“Zoe, remember what Nana Zora said,” Sharlene reminded her gently.
Zoe's eyes jumped, as she stared at Sharlene, whose earnest expression seemed to invite a response. Sharlene was as much a family member as any blood relation, and had been privy to Zoe's Nana, her mother and aunts' tale of the Beaumont women's curse. Unlike Zoe, Sharlene was fascinated
by it all, and wished that her own family history was as exotic and exciting.